Where are you, little Ayla Reynolds?
Three weeks from today, it will have been a year since you were reported missing from your Violette Avenue home in Waterville.
Did we ever imagine, in the flurry of activity to find you, that a year would pass with no resolution to your disappearance?
We believed you would be found, at a neighbor’s house, with a relative, hiding in your garage — somewhere, but not gone, like this.
You would be 21/2 now; running, laughing, talking up a storm, likely excited about Santa Claus and Christmas trees and all the sparkly lights.
Our hopes last year were dashed when you were not found by Christmas. And then the new year came and went, and Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, and now, Thanksgiving, with no sign of you.
In the next few weeks, we will be wrapped up in holiday festivities and less focused on you than we were last year.
As time goes on, people speak less of you, Ayla. We mention you in passing, when someone from out of town asks what we think happened to you before you were reported missing Dec. 17.
They assume that because we live in your city, so close to where you live, that we may somehow be more knowledgeable about the case, help shed light on your disappearance, say something that will help to unravel the mystery.
But we are as much in the dark as those who are physically far away from the story.
And, unlike in the first few days and months when you were on our minds constantly, we think of you only intermittently now.
Time, we are sorry to say, has played an unfortunate role in this.
The flyers on street corners bearing your picture are tattered and dirty. There are still jars in stores asking for donations to keep your memory alive, but the photos of you smiling are faded and worn.
We’re sorry, Ayla, but this is how it is, as time moves on, with no hint of your whereabouts.
Is there something you can say or do to help us find you, so long after you vanished?
Is there still hope, or has the one who harmed you committed the perfect crime?
It seems implausible, with our trained, professional and dedicated investigators, that your whereabouts remain elusive nearly a year later. These men and women, many of whom have children themselves, worked exhaustively to find you in the wake of your disappearance.
But whoever is responsible for the mystery has apparently maneuvered the evidence so that a clear-cut case may not yet be made. Is he or she very clever, or did the pieces just happen to fall in all the right places to successfully obscure the truth?
We who have never met you, Ayla, but whose hearts still ache for you, crave a resolution to this case.
We suspect investigators know fairly well what happened, but are in the unenviable position of not being able to solve the case until someone who knows the facts — and so far has remained quiet — speaks.
As we await that moment, we prepare for the holidays, thinking of you.
I drove by your house today, Ayla. It was a lovely, late November morning, cold and sunny. Pumpkins grace your neighbor’s steps, bags of leaves on driveways await pickup. Life goes on.
Next to a tree bearing a no trespassing sign on your lawn is a poster with a photo of your sweet face and the words:
“Missing. Ayla Bell Reynolds. Please call 911.”
The directive no longer bears the urgency of a year ago, Ayla, but time will never wrest you from our hearts.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.